Who to Blame for California’s New Lockdown?

Closed businesses in Venice Beach in April, during the first lockdown. (Wikimedia Commons)

On Monday, July 13, with coronavirus cases in California rising steeply, Governor Gavin Newsom reintroduced some restrictions on the reopening of the economy. Some are calling this “Lockdown 2.0” or “California’s Second Shutdown,” though the restrictions are milder than the first time around. The new restrictions mandate that bars, churches, gyms, hair salons, and tattoo parlors must close again, while restaurants must once again stop offering indoor dining.

This is frustrating news to many Californians. Some in the media and on social media are blaming those who went out to parties, bars, and beaches as soon as the first lockdown started getting rolled back. Some are also blaming those who attended the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, calling the protesters hypocrites for triggering a spike in cases in the name of protesting police violence.

So who should we blame for the rising cases and the resulting “Lockdown 2.0” in California?

Do we blame Black Lives Matter protesters?

No. It’s been well documented that a considerable majority of protesters in the wake of George Floyd’s murder have worn masks, that these protests took place outdoors where transmission is less likely, that protest-organizers diligently distributed masks to the public, and as a result, the surge in protest events did NOT trigger a surge in coronavirus cases.

Was it worth the risk? June and July saw the largest mobilization of people this country has ever seen, demanding justice for Black lives and an end to police brutality. As a result, politicians and administrators around the country are back-pedaling as fast as they can to placate the protesters; police chiefs have resigned, police officers have been charged, sweeping reforms have been promised. As long as the capitalist system remains intact, the racist violence of the police and the courts will never go away, but the mass protests we’ve seen were an invaluable step toward realizing our own power, and it was crucial in this moment for us to stand up and not let the brutal murder of George Floyd go by without our outrage being heard.

It should come as no surprise that the majority of people who took to the streets in the name of denouncing violence and affirming life, did so with enough care so as not to trigger a surge in coronavirus cases and cause more death.

Do we blame people going to bars and parties? Or what about small business owners?

Undoubtedly, when the first California lockdown started getting rolled back, too many people started going out to crowded indoor areas again, or gathering in large groups without masks. As businesses reopened, many were careful, but certainly not enough business owners or customers took social-distancing as seriously as they should have. But is it reasonable to expect everyone to behave responsibly and with a clear understanding of the risks they’re taking, when mainstream media is full of fake news about this pandemic being a hoax, when the Trump administration keeps spewing misinformation over the airwaves, and when every level of government displays a lack of leadership and contradictory policies without a coherent plan? What serious attempts have been made to systematically educate the public on the urgency of this threat and exactly what precautions are necessary to handle it? And as for the attempts to educate the public that have been made, how can they compete with the ocean of misinformation?

If not them, then who is to blame?

Back in March, Governor Gavin Newsom was widely applauded for responding to the pandemic with the nation’s first statewide lockdown. In fact, Newsom’s response to the virus was far from perfect. The response came too late, with inadequate testing, while Newsom tried to put the burden of the state’s new budget problems resulting from the lockdown on the backs of workers and the poor, cutting social services and education, and leaving farm workers especially vulnerable. But at least compared to other governors, Newsom responded quickly with restrictions on the economy and public gatherings. California was spared the worst horrors of the pandemic as witnessed in New York in March and April.

But after all these months, we’ve still never had a serious rollout of testing and contact-tracing, which experts have been saying for months is essential to deal with this virus.

Meanwhile, big business interests have been eager to get people back to work again. By mid-May, Newsom was caving to corporate pressure and relaxing restrictions, against the advice of health experts, and despite the fact that we were still in the midst of the first wave. By June, even bars and gyms were open again, and cases were still rising every day. So why should we be surprised by the new surge?

Many of us have lost our jobs and income in the pandemic. But the capitalist system gives us horrible choices – risk death by going to work or face being unable to feed our families, pay the rent, and get medical care.

In the capitalist system we live under, profit comes above all else, including human life. The corporations and the politicians who serve them cannot help but push back against common sense and scientific expertise. They can’t help but roll back the lockdown too soon and too quickly, out of hunger to restore profits. Even now, under pressure from charter school profiteers, administrators in Orange County have decided to reopen schools in the fall without masks or social distancing.

As the cases continue to surge, liberals will blame conservatives, conservatives will blame liberals, people will blame protesters and small business-owners and workers and customers. In other words, we will keep blaming each other, until we recognize that this crisis was created by the profit-hungry One Percent. We have to take responsibility for our safety, and that means recognizing the threat of this virus, responding responsibly, and holding each other accountable. We can and must educate each other and ourselves, and organize to protect ourselves. But we can do this without falling into the traps of division which the corporate elite and corporate media like to set for us.